Culture and Education: The forbidden conversation

Written by admin   // December 2, 2010   // 0 Comments

by Taki S. Raton

Recent and past published accounts citing causative factors influencing the educational outcomes of African American students may prove to alter the conversational landscape regarding educational reform.

What additionally may come under microscopic review would be the scope and content of staff development and teacher education planning agendas.

Becoming more prominent in the dialogue exploring reasons as to why our children in Pre-K through secondary learning levels are failing nationally in public school classrooms is the exploration of group-specific social, cultural and historical indicators.

It’s been 45 years since the then Assistant Secretary of Labor Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s 1965 report on the weakness of the Black family and 56 years since the 1954 Brown v. Board decision, the popular albeit decidedly incorrect posture taken by the broader Black community, Black civil rights leadership, and cross-level educational stakeholders.

That posture, as described by Dr. Theresa Perry in her essay “Up From the Parched Earth: Toward a Theory of African-American Achievement,” is the prevailing assumption among many educators: “That the task of achievement for African Americans as a group is the same as it is for any other group…if you know what works for the White child, then you know what works for the Black child.”

Resultantly, learning and developmental outcome gaps in accordance to this “trying-to-be accepted” political stance is due exclusively to external superficial issues such as poverty, class status, inferior schooling, poorly trained teachers and the like; not because of any exceptional variations associated with natural cultural differences, unresolved unique historical circumstances or even due to ethno-distinctive ways of learning and viewing the world (frame-of-reference).

According to such faulty leadership, there does not exist any claim that would admit exclusive differences between Black and White children. “We are all the same,” voice equality pundits.

Well, they were wrong 45 years ago in 1965 and most certainly 56 years ago with Brown assuming that an “equal” education could be acquired when a Black child sits next to a White child.

But sadly, this broad field Black community, Black civil rights leadership, and cross-level educational stakeholders–then and now–would rather sit back like cowards and silently bear witness to the continuing self-destructive death cycle of our babies, youth and young adults in public educational corridors rather than admit that they were/are in error.

Simply put, if they were correct then and now, we would not have a mere 48% graduation rate for Black males in 2007-2008 according to the “2010 Schott 50 State Report on Black Males in Public Education.”

That same study revealed a 25 percent graduation rate for Black males in New York, 28% in Philadelphia, 37% in Brown County, Fla., 44% in Chicago, 47% in Nashville, Tenn., 50% in Wisconsin (50%), and 27% in Dade County, Fla., Cleveland, and Detroit.

If such leadership were correct in the assumption that the task of achievement for African Americans as a group is the same as it is for any other group, then we would not have what the Chicago-based Black Star Project reports is a “rock-bottom” score for Black students nationally on ACT testing. The composite score for Black students was 16.9. For Asian Americans it was 23.4; Caucasians 22.3; American Indians 19.0; and Hispanics 18.6.

Had these “equality pundits” been correct in their grossly fallacious posture that “if you know what will work for the White child, then you know what works for the Black child,” the Council of Great City Schools would not have released this past month that found “the picture of Black male achievement is even bleaker than is generally known,” and that the educational gap between Black males and the performance of student in other cultures is a “catastrophe that needs intervention from the highest levels.”

Such short sighted and selfish minded thinking in our culture has lead, according to the study, to only 12%  of Black male fourth graders performing at or above proficient levels in reading (White males are at 38 percent proficiency nationwide) and only nine percent of Black male eighth graders across the country performing at or above proficient reading levels.

If Black kids learned the same way as White kids, why then are Black males, records the study, scoring an average of 104 points lower than White males on the SAT in reading. In 2008, Black males ages 18 and up only accounted for five percent of the college population while at the same time Black males are make up 36% of the prison population.

And, of course, our Black leaders can never be wrong! Not even in view of the September 13, report by Daniel J. Losen and Russell Skiba titled, “Suspended Education – Urban Middle Schools in Crisis.” The report revealed the “racial gap in African American suspensions has grown considerably since 1973.”

But many Black folk and Black leadership—then and now—are mute on this statistic. In our effort to be with White people, accepted by White people and “equal” to White people, we have turned our backs on Black children, blindly following a disastrous agenda to “equalize” education for them, only to realize too late the negative impact these equalization efforts have had on our children. For example, researchers noted a nine-point increase in suspension rates from six percent in 1973, to 15% in 2006.

In Palm Beach County and in Milwaukee, citing a 2006-2007 survey, the district-wide middle school suspension rate for Black males exceeded 50% with a cross-district suspension rate for Black females at 52%. This segment focus was labeled the greatest “per-district average increase.”

But to date, as our children are self-destructing in our nation’s public school classrooms, dying on the streets or ending up in jail, we hear nothing about these figures and the resultant deplorable consequences befalling our young from the rank and file bulwarks of Black leadership.

Fortunately, all are not blind and a small but courageous few – soon to turn into many – are viewing our children’s academic and developmental decay with a new and more natural cause-and-effect lens.

Although this “culturalist view” would be new to them, for us in the African World cultural community, we have been successfully defining, defending and cultivating this approach for our children in African Centered schooling and in culturally specific developmental agendas now for the last 42 years since the premier opening of African Centered schools in 1968.

Regarding what has been called the “jaw-dropping” gap for Black boys in the Great City Schools account, writer Zachary Roth cites that “Poverty isn’t the sole explanation for these differences. The report found that poor White boys do as well in reading and in math as non-poor Black boys.”

Roth adds that Moynihan’s position regarding culture, community specific sociological indicators and the unique historical scenario of North American enslavement (yet still psychologically unresolved and generationally self perpetuating – DeGruy) are ongoing contributors to what Brown University professor of history emeritus James T. Patterson would term in his May 26, New York Times article “The Moynihan Future” a “Tangle of Pathology – a Black self perpetuating cycle of out-of-wedlock births, fatherless households, continuous academic failure and increased incarceration rates among Black males to mention a few.” Additionally quoting Harvard University researcher Ronald Ferguson:

“There’s accumulating evidence that there are racial differences in what kids experience before the first day of kindergarten that have to do with a lot of sociological and historical forces. In order to address those, we have to be able to have conversations that people are unwilling to have.”

A study reflecting this conversation calling for closer examination is a November 22 Black Star Project newsletter article by Paul Thomas, who cites a Joseph Rowntree Foundation study that “only 14% of pupil achievement can be attributed to the quality of the school” and that “86% of that achievement is driven by factors outside of (formal) education” (culture, parenting, community socialization, unique historical influencers, etc.).

Forging a cultural specific foundation for this Rowntree conclusion is reference to an earlier writing by our esteemed ancestor Dr. Asa Hilliard III in his 1997 work, “SBA – The Reawakening of the African Mind” where he lists several out-of-school factors supporting high academic performance in groups such as the Jews, Asians, and even in children from the Nation of Islam (Muslim) academies.

In brief, he says that: 1) None of these groups rely on the public or private sector schools outside of their communities to do the job of teaching their children for them; 2) Each group places a premium on teaching at home and in their community key aspects of their culture and history outside of the school setting; 3) No group expects the school to teach the most important lessons about their respective cultural heritage, and 4) The groups, though “integrated” retain “their cultural integrity and fierce pride.”

The point of the Rowntree and Hilliard contribution is that all groups of dignity, self-respect, and self-reliance in the U.S. and indeed globally who enjoy ethnic self-sustaining economic pluralistic fluidity employs that 86% outside the classroom effectively to mold and prepare their children, as is their self-defined cultural duty and obligation to themselves, to their community, to their ancestral lineage, to their race, and to the quality of their future as a unique and distinct culture above, apart, and beyond the public or private school experience.

This cultural factor prominently surfaced yet again in my September 10 MCJ article “Educational markers reflect Black community decline” where it was mentioned in the May issue of “Developmental Psychology” revealing that the majority of Latino kindergartners in American schools have quality social skills comparable to their White middle-class peers and that even low-income Latino kindergarteners are ahead of their Black peers in social skill development.”

The writing quotes University of Texas (Austin) associate professor of sociology Robert Crosnoe, who observes that Latino parents “do a great job of getting their children school-ready in a behavioral and socio-emotional sense.” University of Missouri (Columbia) retired professor of early-childhood education Linda Espinosa says that: “There is something going on culturally that’s protecting Latino children during these early childhood years.”

One last peek into this closet of “Culture and Education – The forbidden conversation.”  In the fall of 1991, Siloah Lutheran School, 3521 North 21at Street, was the first school in Milwaukee to open with an African Centered curriculum.

While then teaching art at Milwaukee Tech the June prior, the head of the PTA, Roger Griffin, literally sought this writer out, found out where I was and came to Milwaukee Tech to request my consultantship to conduct an in-service for the Siloah staff in the African Centered paradigm. The predominately Black K4 through 8th grade level academy was experiencing a multitude of discipline problems and low academic performance during the 1990-1991 school year.

I designed and successfully implemented what turned out to be an intense 36 contact hour summer in-service for the eight member Siloah staff. There was pride in the eyes and hearts on the first day of school as students that September entered a newly adorned Siloah culturally immersed in African and African American imagery in the hallways and classrooms.

Well into the start of the school year, an MCJ October 23 article on Siloah quotes Berry Mimis who said: “A curriculum like this should be adopted in every school.” Mimis noticed that his two daughters’ grades “were stronger and that there was an increased motivation and eagerness in completing homework assignments.”

“There is now a positive and supportive tone throughout the building that just seems to blossom more and more each day,” said Griffin who was in the school halls at least three times a week

The then principal Tim McNeil, who also taught social studies, said that “We want our students to make strong associations with Africa and with their heritage. Just looking around the school, you can see we have a different approach to the educational process.”  In a March “Northwestern Lutheran” (1992) article, McNeil said: “I’ve got students who now are scoring in the top seven percent of the country in the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. But if you don’t have self esteem, you can’t rise to the level of your ability.”

Siloah had an enrollment of 121 children.  There was a waiting list of 52 names for admission for the coming school year as the word spread about the school. But the church at that time could not afford to expand to support a larger student population according to the writing.

“This year is totally different than last year.  I see a lot more pride in these kids, and the parent participation has improved so much,” said Kathleen Pruess, the kindergarten teacher during that year.  “It’s just a good feeling when I see kids relate to their own heritage.”

We are superior to and for ourselves and for our children when we subscribe to our own exclusive “Perfect Black Best” culturally ascendant higher order upline, noting and modeling the very best that the group has been ancestrally and historically and the promise of the perfect best that we can become.

Respectively, all other groups in this American multicultural pluralistic society – and indeed in the world – have advanced and excelled as a group when they also ascribe to and follow their own culturally ascendant higher order path. The instruction of this higher order “Perfect Black Best” to our children is what the African Centered curriculum has mastery over all other instructional and developmental paradigms for African American students.

Ironically, the teaching staff at Siloah Lutheran School at the time of this writer’s in-service in 1991 was all White!

Taki S. Raton is a school consultant in the African Centered curriculum paradigm and creator of the Milwaukee Blyden Delany Academy model. He is a writer and lecturer on the national stage detailing African World historiography, urban community issues with emphasis on education, the social development of Black youth and African American male concerns. He can be reached for presentations and consultant arrangements at

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